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Busy year ahead for rails-to-trails project

PONTOTOC — Efforts to transform an abandoned railroad into a recreational trail will move into high gear next year in anticipation of a 2012 opening.

Crews are finishing survey work along more than 40 miles of what was the southern portion of the Mississippi-Tennessee Railroad between New Albany and Houston.

When completed, the trail will provide recreation to walkers and runners, bicyclists and horseback riders on a 10-foot-wide paved path through woods, fields and towns.

Although the surrounding terrain varies from utterly flat river bottoms to steep hills, the railroad bed typically offers gentle grades that make for easy non-motorized traveling.

Ronnie Bell of the Three Rivers Planning and Development District said further work would be contracted early next year to continue the conversion.

“Hopefully in January we’ll bid for the clearing and grubbing,” he said.

Once that contract is signed and work is under way, Engineering Solutions Inc. will concentrate on final design details, he said, and bids for grading, drainage, bridge work and paving could be let as soon as April.

The last work would be construction of buildings with gift shops and information centers at trail entrances in New Albany, Pontotoc and Houston, with rest facilities at the whistlestops of Ingomar, Ecru, Algoma and New Houlka.

Some $10 million in federal transportation funds have been granted to the Tanglefoot Trail project, which is named for an early locomotive on the railroad built in the 1870s by author William Faulkner’s grandfather.

While several Mississippi communities have converted short sections of former railway to recreational use, the Tanglefoot Trail will be Mississippi’s second such conversion of more than 40 miles, following the Longleaf Trace between Hattiesburg and Prentiss.

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